Vintage Comic Review: “The California Raisins – The Ultimate Collection” (Blackthorne, 80s August Special)

Welcome back to 80s August, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of the greatest decade since fry bread. 

Before Ronald McDonald starred in his own video games and the Geico Cavemen were given their own ill-fated television show, the marketing minds at CalRab (the California Raisin Advisory Board) decided to expand the presence of their own claymation mascots in pop culture. As a result, The California Raisins became a comic book published by Blackthorne Publishing. 

Blackthorne distributed several comics based on these sun-shriveled superstars, including several 3D comics and an oversized, 72-page book in 1988 titled The California Raisins: The Ultimate Collection. It is the latter of which we will take a look at today. The book contains three separate 24-page stories, which I’m pretty sure are non-3D versions of the 3D books. Soooo… 2D stories, I guess. 

The California Raisins Comic Book panel
I agree, whatever your name is…

The creative credits aren’t remarkably clear, given the way they are presented in the book, but across the three stories, there is work by writers David Cody Weiss and B.J. Weiss (sometimes credited as Weissworks), and artists Andy Ice, Jeff Marghart, Chris Miller, David Cody Weiss and Jim Nelson. 

The Adventures of the California Raisins

The first story carries the generic title of The Adventures of the California Raisins. The Raisins discover an announcement for a band audition in nearby Raisinville. Always eager for a gig, the Raisins grab their gear and take a drive into town, where they find mysteries afoot.  

A gang of shady sugar cubes are secretly destroying all of the musical instruments in town, and the band audition is just a cover to lure all of the nearby musicians into a trap. It turns out that there is a mayoral election coming up, and the incumbent mayor of Raisinville is being challenged by the upstart Big Burger.

The California Raisins Comic Book page
Oh no! Not Poughkeepsie!

The secret to Big Burger’s campaign isn’t his personal charm or his position on issues. Instead, he has distributed a bags of “Snax” throughout the town, which turn all those who eat them into impressionable, zombie-like drones. Those affected are susceptible to psychological nudging, and Big Burger is capitalizing on it by convincing them all to vote for him.

How is this associated with bands and musical instruments? As it turns out, music breaks the spell that the Snax cast on the people. Once the California Raisins discover the truth, they conduct a town-wide concert that restores the sanity of the people and lays Big Burger’s plans to waste. 

The California Raisins Comic Book art
Yeah, I had to count the fingers, too.

Waisin Wipeout

The second story will put the Raisins themselves in mortal danger!

On a trip to the beach, the Raisins catch the attention of a director named Steven Spielbug, who is currently making a surfing movie. Spielbug casts them as surfers in his movie, and a series of Steven Spielberg references follow, which I suppose are intended to be funny, but I doubt that many kids of the 80s (myself included) would have understood most of the jokes. A riff on 1941 bombing in theaters? Yeah, no kids cared about that kind of stuff back then, and I can’t imagine many older readers would be picking up a California Raisins comic to read for themselves. Except me.

Back to the plot… It seems that since his most recent defeat, the villainous Big Burger has taken up residence in an underwater base. It is here where he learns that his nemeses the California Raisins are showing off their surfing skills on the surface above. Now is the time to eliminate these wrinkly wretches once and for all! 

Big Burger employs a giant tidal wave machine to create a disastrous end for the Raisins. As the wave threatens to crash into the coast and smear the Raisins fruity insides all over it in the process, the heroes quickly surf and swim around the wave, creating a whirlpool that sends the wave back to Big Burger’s underwater headquarters. Sounds like quite a superpower on the part of the Raisins’, eh? 

The California Raisins Blackthorne Comic Book
Steven Spielbug, ladies and gentlemen.

The Trojan House

In the final story, the California Raisins are gifted a giant “music mansion,” complete with new instruments and plenty of space for practice and jam sessions. 

Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s because it’s all a trap laid by Big Burger. One by one, all of the Raisins start to disappear, until they are all eventually captured by BB’s sugar cube henchmen. One of the Raisins named Hayseed manages to escape, and he then makes use of the house’s tricks and traps to take down the cube crew. 

That’s pretty much it for The Trojan House.

The California Raisins Comic Book Trojan House
Nothing suspicious here.

It’s odd that Hayseed is the only one of the California Raisins who is actually named across all three stories. According to the back cover, some of the other Raisins have names (Ben Indasun, Tiny Goodbite, Justin X. Grape, etc.), but as characters, they lack any differentiation in how they’re written. Only the one with the sunglasses is visually distinct from the others. 

Across all three stories, the black and white interior artwork looks similar to a coloring book. The lines are clean and all of the elements are easily distinguishable, which isn’t a surprise given that the book was intended for kids. Despite featuring the work of multiple artists, I didn’t notice too many differences between the visuals of each story. 

The California Raisins Comic Book villain Big Burger
Such a tasty villain!

Overall, The California Raisins: The Ultimate Collection may have been a fairly enjoyable read for 80s kids, though its humor and relevance are so dated now, that I don’t recommend that any adults reading this review should track down a copy. It’s a neat time capsule of sorts for those who are interested in marketing history or have either a nostalgia or an antiquarian longing for the 1980s, but most everyone else will probably be comfortable letting this book die on the vine. 

Did I use that expression properly? Eh, who cares.

Thanks for reading!

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